Southfield (CW50) – Homelessness is a crisis that is occurring in major cities across the country and Detroit is amongst those cities. When people discuss youth homelessness, it is often talked about as a separate issue and one that can be solved by finding kids homes. But talking about the root causes of youth homelessness like poverty, educational disparities, and health outcomes, you can find more solutions. 

Community Connect Host Jackie Paige, with Courtney Smith, Founder of Detroit Phoenix Center

Courtney Smith, Founder of Detroit Phoenix Center, joins Jackie Paige on Community Connect to discuss why she started the center and how its programs help the city’s high risk and homeless youth.

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Smith herself experienced homelessness at the age of 15, eventually finding stability as she reached adulthood. She started the Detroit Phoenix Center after returning to Michigan in 2016 to help her brother, Blair, who was also experiencing homelessness at the time. She realized that she was not stable enough on her own to help support her brother in the capacity that he needed. While trying to help Blair and his friends secure housing and resources, she asked herself, ‘Where do people like my brother, who may not identify themselves as someone who is experiencing homelessness, go?’ 

This line of thinking led her to she submitting a proposal to join the Millennial Trains Project, an organization which provided Smith and 25 social service entrepreneurs training, resources, and the opportunity to travel to six different communities and learn from CEOs of non-profit organizations. Smith was one of the five social service entrepreneurs who received a $10K grant.

With the money from the grant, the Detroit Phoenix Center opened in January 2017. It is a resource center where young people are free to drop in off the street. Showers, washing machines, emergency assistance, food, and mental health resources are accessible through the center. If housing is needed for the night, the organization connects them with housing. They also have an after-school enrichment program along with life skills and educational courses.  

“We believe that those who are closest to the problem need to be the ones driving the solutions,” Smith says.

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Smith’s brother, Blair, ended up taking his own life in the days leading up to the opening of the Phoenix Center.

“We have a responsibility to provide for our community in a time of crisis, and I could not be a human service organization for my youngest brother, but I decided to create one.”

The loss of her brother fueled her mission to show up and provide for the community even more.

“I often say that deep-seeded pain can either cripple us or force us to show up in the world as better versions of ourselves, and I chose the latter.”

Detroit Phoenix Center, like many organizations, was impacted by COVID-19 and has had to make some changes. The building the center was leasing closed so they’ve transitioned to virtual and mobile services. Throughout the pandemic, the center’s youth fellows have remained involved by providing legwork for supply giveaways and relief services. 

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